Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #13: Death Pleases the War Goddess

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (magician) 3.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 2/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jubair, human rogue 3.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor 3 [deity not yet known to most of the PCs].
  • Lucretia Scavola, half-elf monk (zen archer) 3.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 3; and Zafira, camel mount.
They are currently accompanied by the human druid Tailless, and her axebeak mount Cluck. Last time, the party assaulted a hideout used by Ghost Fist Clan orcs, and took the leader, Ilgash, alive.

After healing themselves and exploring the small cave, the heroes decided to heal Ilgash enough that they could interrogate her. Edel tried to question her diplomatically at first, but Ilgash could see no reason she should cooperate. The bard then let ZhaZha take over: the cavalier bodily picked up Ilgash, held her against the wall, and aggressively commanded the prisoner to cooperate. This intimidation was very effective, and Ilgash provided them with the following information:
  • She works for Yazdanyar, warlord of the Ghost Fists. He is with the rest of the clan, up near The Stairs. (This refers to one of the few known routes that caravans can use to climb the Shalash Escarpment, located in the desert a hundred miles or so to the north.)
  • She is here to gather information on the nearby settlements, to learn if they are worth raiding. 
  • Jibral the alchemist was not a direct contact of hers, but he was friendly with the summoner Izaz, who was a member of her tribe.
  • The Ghost Fists worship the Lord of Endings. (This is one of the titles of Asmolon, god of the void and death.) 
  • Tarifa was their spy in Spine Hollow. Ilgash isn't important enough to know any other spies the tribe might use.
  • Yazdanyar is a human devotee of the Lord of Endings. The tribe follows him because he is mightier than any of their warriors. 
  • The Ghost Fist Clan numbers a couple hundred orcs. Ilgash wasn't sure how many priests the tribe has, but there are at least a couple of them.
  • Ragalash is an elf (or half-elf?) from somewhere across the desert, but Ilgash didn't know where Yazdanyar found him. Ragalash has dark purple skin and white hair. (This led Jumari to conclude he must be one of the semi-mythical drow.)
  • The Ghost Fists had no raids planned here--yet--but Ilgash expected more of the tribe to arrive within a week. 
  • The tribe has one or two other hideouts between here and their home base, but none as good as this one. 
The party deliberated about what to do with Ilgash. Lucretia, at least, did not want to kill her in cold blood, but they couldn't simply let her go, at least not before her fellow tribesmen arrived. The monk suggested they turn her over to the druids at Spine Hollow, like they did with the spy Tarifa. The others agreed to this, and decided that ZhaZha and Jubair would accompany Tailless back to Spine Hollow, which would take at least three days round-trip.

While that group was away, the others would prepare for the arrival of more orcs. They used brush to build some screens atop the lookout spire, so that Lucretia would have some cover there. Jumari climbed up to the hole the spring issued from, and found that it was too small to hold anything of interest (or danger). She also burned the pair of unholy symbols they had seized from Ilgash's group, as well as the creepy wooden mask one of them had worn. Fatou scribed a few scrolls--a luxury of time that traveling rarely affords her--and finally identified the pearl of power they took from Tarifa.

Their friends reached Spine Hollow, and delivered a report as well as their prisoner. They acquired more provisions, and asked if any more villagers could accompany them. Unfortunately, the Hollow could not spare more people. Jubair proposed a bargain with Tailless that if she came back with them again, he would stop asking her repeatedly about how to get a pet axebeak. She agreed.

Traveling by night, the trio returned to Ilgash's cave just before dawn on the 27th of Leaffall. This date is the Feast of Broken Swords in Thovalas, and is the holy day of Lucretia's goddess, Bellonika. The monk awoke before dawn to start her prayers, and used her quarterstaff to practice glaive katas (Bellonika's favored weapon). She was disappointed that there would be no deaths on this holy day, because that would please the war goddess, so instead she spent part of the day hunting.

The battle begins!
That night, late in the first watch, Tailless heard a group approaching their position in the ravine. She alerted Edel, who went into the cave to wake the others. Meanwhile, ZhaZha, who was also on watch, mounted her camel and moved to the druid's position. Jumari had just enough time to hastily don her breastplate before a small group of four orcs came into view of the party's sentries. The orcs paused, sensing something amiss, and the heroes attacked. Fatou blessed the party as Lucretia started shooting at the orcs from her vantage point. Edel cast grease between the orcs and his friends. ZhaZha rode forward to meet the orcs, easily crossing the grease but failing to spear one with her lance.

The orcs closed with the cavalier, and one struck her. Two of the orcs entered a rage, and one attacked ZhaZha while the other went after her mount. The first barbarian landed a lucky critical hit with his falchion that, with her previous injury, was enough to kill her, not just knock her out. The other barbarian wounded her camel.

Jubair, Jumari, and Fatou (the last two using expeditious retreat) reached the fight, and the evoker shot a force bolt at ZhaZha's killer. Edel cast hideous laughter on the same orc, and the camel promptly bit the now prone barbarian. Lucretia shot one of the non-raging orcs twice, killing it.

We removed ZhaZha's mini from the board when she fell
dead in her camel's space. 
The other barbarian ignored the camel--and suffered a bite of opportunity for doing so--in order to cross the grease and attack Tailless. Jubair moved to flank this orc, but missed. Jumari joined that fight, and Lucretia shot the orc. Meanwhile, Edel stepped away from the scary barbarian and healed the druid.

The fourth orc struck ZhaZha's camel, knocking it out. (However, it soon stabilized on its own.) The prone barbarian, who had shaken off the bard's spell, tried to rise--but the axebeak crushed his head in its huge beak.

The surviving barbarian struck Tailless again, but then suffered a sneak attack from Jubair and a falchion blow from Jumari. Fatou reached the druid and healed her, as Lucretia downed the orc with an arrow.

This left only one orc standing, who was badly wounded. It tried to withdraw, but was pursued and taken down by the axebeak.

Jumari examined ZhaZha and learned that it was too late to heal her, for she was dead. She then healed her fallen friend's mount while the party searched the dead orcs. They found a couple of potions, and some jars of black paste, which Jumari and Fatou recognized as black fester (an orc concoction that, when applied to weapons, causes the wounds they inflict to resist healing magic).

The party took ZhaZha's body back to Spine Hollow to ask the druids if they could bring her back. On the way there, Edel composed a song praising the cavalier's bravery, and recited it as part of their plea to the druids' leader, Razima. Because ZhaZha had died protecting Spine Hollow, the sylph agreed to cast reincarnate on her, but lacked the expensive oils required by the spell. The heroes would have to return to Zahallan to acquire them. (ZhaZha would also need some castings of restoration to remove the permanent negative levels incurred in returning from the dead, but that spell is not available to druids.)

The adventurers left ZhaZha's body and camel in the druids' care and traveled to Zahallan. They had acquired quite a bit of nonmagical loot from their past several fights that they had not yet had time to trade for cash, so they did that now. This gave them enough to buy the oils for the druid's spell, and a decent start towards the other spells their friend would need once alive again.

The day of the new moon fell during their trip back to Spine Hollow. Jumari took some time to move away the party's camp in order to conduct some prayers and rites in privacy. Fatou took note of her absence, and recalled that the half-orc had also vanished for some time during the previous new moon. Fatou observes Yaziel's holy day on the full moon, and knows Asmolon's cult holds unholy rites at the new moon. She was, however, fairly certain Jumari did not observe those ways, given the inquisitor's passionate hatred for the death god's cult. The wizard's curiosity finally got the better of her, and she asked Jumari what religion she followed.

Jumari answered that she followed "the Lost Egg." When that statement met blank stares from her companions, she related the short version of her god's story: At some time in the distant past, the two dragon goddesses, the Adamantine Dragon and the Scintillating Dragon, mated and each produced a single egg that they laid in shared nest. The Tarrasque hatched from one of these eggs, and devoured the other. Jumari worships "That Which Is Not and Should Have Been," the potential of the unborn god. She prays at the new moon because it is reborn then, with new potential. Similarly, the winter solstice is a holy day, when the year is reborn. Her religion is not a common one; she had known only three followers--herself, her master, and her sister--before Jubair had asked her the same question a few weeks before and decided to become a follower, too.

The group continued on to Spine Hollow. They gave the oils to Razima, who performed the reincarnation spell the next day. ZhaZha returned as a half-elf, apparently a mix of high elf and the pale-skinned humans of the northern continent, but she retained her gender and her previous body's bright red hair and blue eyes.

The party intends to continue the fight against the Ghost Fist clan, and plans to go looking for their home near the Stairs...


Hurray! The inquisitor's big secret is finally out in the open! You'd think PCs would be more nosy than this group has been. Now that the others are aware of it, I have added the Lost Egg to the Dragon Gods section of the religions page.
The new ZhaZha

ZhaZha's player is currently adjusting her character sheet, and reviewing the effects of the permanent negative levels she has to cope with until she can afford to clear them. She may seek out a side quest or two to earn the money to pay for the required spells, so that she doesn't have to beg even more from her friends. We have a few weeks to work on that before our next session, due to real-life transitions affecting our group.

Lucretia's player has defended her doctoral thesis and found a postdoc position. We're all very happy for her, but unfortunately, the job isn't local, so she will be moving out of state next month. This means that this was her last session in person with us before then. We've been considering our options for how to continue the game from here, and will start by having her join us remotely, through Skype or the like. Whatever we work out will also affect her husband, Jubair's player, who will be joining her after he finishes his degree this winter.  

Appendix: Previous Sessions

Sunday, August 27, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 31

31st) What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

I can't narrow this to just one answer, so here are some of the things I look forward to in 2018:
  • The rest of the Return to Freeport adventure series, which will be gathered in a print collection in February
  • Hopefully getting back to GenCon again.
  • Continuing my "Time of the Tarrasque" and Tales from the Yawning Portal campaigns.
  • Getting my act together to finally get the Miskatonic Regional Elementary School LARP ready for a second run.

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 30

30th) What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

I've thought long and hard about this, and finally decided that the mash-up that I would most like to see is one that I helped write back in 1998. As I mentioned in my "LARPs in Limbo" column last fall, I would like to polish up Miskatonic Regional Elementary School for a second run someday. To give you an idea of how many genres get mashed into that one little game--and to push myself to do some some more work on it--here's the player handout (or "bluesheet") about the game's premise:


Bluesheet: The Big School District Merger

The past year has been a turbulent time for the Miskatonic River Valley school district. Due to the prolonged recession, state and federal funding has dried up and nearly every school in the district faced closing unless they merged.

Before now, the district was home to four elementary schools:

Miskatonic Elementary has served the children, spawn, and other assorted offspring of the families, spore beds, and parthenogenic amorphous masses of historic, haunted Arkham for over a century. The school is large, both in student body and in architecture--it has to be, in order for some of the more, um, exotic students to even make it through the doors. Now renamed Miskatonic Regional Elementary School, it has become host to other very specialized schools that were closed in the merger.

Anime Elementary was the school of choice for the local mecha operators, space fighter pilots, alien sex demons, cute tiny auto mechanics, and weapons dealers in the high-tech townships north of Arkham. Many of these families had more-or-less mobile residences, so when the school was shut down, most of the students simply transferred outside the district. A few families decided to keep their kids in the same school district, so those ended up at Miskatonic.

W.D. Memorial was located in Filmland, to the east. Few parents here were willing to move away from their show-business careers. Some were affluent enough to afford private schooling, but most just enrolled their kids in the nearest possible school. Miskatonic gained many talented and fascinating students as a result.

The Atlantean Private School for Boys was located offshore a few dozen miles south of Arkham. Wealthy superheroes sent their sons here to be properly trained in the use and control of their powers. Unfortunately for the school, some supervillains also sent their children there. An ill-considered comment on a report card last spring kindled the fires of rage, so to speak, in the heart of one of the more volatile parents. Luckily, all of the students were away on a field trip that day. They returned home to find not the welcoming domes of the underwater school, but the cooling lava of a new mountain range. Although no villain has publicly claimed responsibility, the modus operandi has narrowed the search to one particular suspect. Dr. Volcano, however, is in hiding and refuses to comment on the disaster.

The first couple months of this school year were rather challenging, as both the returning Miskatonic students and the newcomers adjusted to sharing a common school. The principal, Mr. Black, has dealt promptly and efficiently with fights, accidents, and other disturbances, which has greatly reassured the parents of new students who might have had any qualms about Arkham's sinister reputation. (Most potential troublemakers, on the other hand, live in terror of the harsh and seemingly omniscient Mr. Black.)

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 29

29th) What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?

Pretty much all of the Kickstarters by Green Ronin that I've backed (Advanced Bestiary, Freeport: The City of Adventure, Blue Rose AGE, The Book of the Righteous). They've had their hiccups and delays, as most Kickstarters do, but the Ronins have always been very up-front about any issues and how they were going to be resolved, and the final product has always been worth the wait.

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 28

I'm starting a new job tomorrow, so don't know how much free time I'm going to have this week. I've decided to go ahead and post the rest of these today.

28th) What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

It's probably a toss-up between Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Princess Bride, but the Star Wars movies rank pretty high on the list, too.

I recently saw a gamer post online (I wish I could recall who or where) about how they vastly prefer The Princess Bride quotes to Holy Grail at their table. They had found that the former don't spawn as many follow-up quotes, and thus they derail the game far less.

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 27

27th) What are your essential tools for good gaming?
  • Plenty of writing materials for making notes during the game. I usually use a composition notebook to take notes during each session I run, for future reference. (It's also a great memory aid for when I type up the summaries of each session for this blog.) I also keep a pad of scratch paper handy for tracking initiative, sketching maps and symbols to show the players, and any other writing needs.
  • A good battle grid. I've used wet-erase mats in the past, but my current preference is 1"-gridded easel pads. My art skills let me easily draw maps freehand during play, but it often saves precious play time to draw out the more complicated maps ahead of time. And using an easel pad lets me keep maps that I might want to reuse later.
  • A good supply of dice. Have enough for all the rolls that your character makes on a regular basis, and at least one of each other die type the game uses. If you're the GM, have multiples of each kind of die (and possibly an extra set or two if a player forgets to bring theirs). 
  • Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering, by Robin D. Law. This short booklet (only 38 pages) has a lot of solid advice about how to be a better GM. I reread it about once a year or so just to refresh my memory and remind me to pay attention. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 26

26th) Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

GURPS. I haven't played GURPS in about 15 years, but I still own a shelf full of GURPS historical sourcebooks, and have used them as references for games using very different rules systems. For example. I've used GURPS Greece, Egypt, Celtic Myth, Places of Mystery, and Fantasy Bestiary, among others, for my BESM Greek myth campaign; and GURPS China, Places of Mystery (again), and Arabian Nights when working on a Silk Road caravansarai LARP.

I also tend to reread sourcebooks that contain conspiracy/secret history/alternate history/occult content (GURPS Illuminati, Atlantis, Cabal, Atomic Horror, Warehouse 23, Monsters, etc.) every few years, because I've long wanted to try running a game of that sort. If I ever do, it probably won't be in GURPS, but I would be constantly using those sourcebooks throughout the game.

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 25

25th) What is the best way to thank your GM?

Let them know that you enjoy playing in their game. Give them good feedback about what you like about the campaign, what you want to see more of (or less of), what has you confused and needs more clarification (apart from obvious in-game mysteries--but if those are consistently frustrating, tell the GM), and what you would like to do with your character as the game progresses.

Money, game books, LEGO, and food are all strictly optional, but rarely refused. ;)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 24

24th) Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

I don't make much use of Pay What You Want publishers, but I did look into some of the DM's Guild offerings when Wizards of the Coast highlighted a few of them in their "Unearthed Arcana" series. Stray Chow Chow's "Druid Circle - Circle of the Beast" (Price: Free--not even PWYW!) stood out as providing animal companions to druids, which was a staple of the class in previous editions. It allowed me to convert my daughter's Pathfinder druid to 5E without losing the one feature that had sold her on the class in the first place.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The "Mythos" CCG

This text was originally posted 8/3/2017 in a new thread in The Piazza's Call of Cthulhu forum, but I decided that it was worth sharing here, too. Additional comments have been added as footnotes.

I played Magic: The Gathering and a couple other collectible card games for a time back in the 1990s-2000s, but the only one that I actively collected and still own is Mythos[*]. This was Chaosium's attempt to cash in on the CCG craze with a game based on their own Call of Cthulhu RPG. The game didn't sell well, so Chaosium only produced a handful of expansion sets during 1996-1997 before discontinuing the line[**]. I bought quite a few Mythos decks and boosters when it was new, and a LOT more (often as cases) when it started hitting the clearance shelves. For a very brief time, I even turned to collectibles resellers to acquire some of the individual cards I couldn't find any other way. (I'm still 13 cards short of a complete set, because they were going for more than I could justify paying then, and are probably impossible to find now.)

My wife and I continue to play occasionally with the dozen or so of the best decks that we built years ago. Our kids are now 13 and 12, so we've started teaching them how to play, too. We started them on the two prepackaged decks from the Standard Set, and they've recently graduated to playing with our custom-built decks.[***]

This has finally prompted me to build some new decks for the first time in years. I was never happy with any of the Europe decks that I built back in the day (that region was never as interesting as the Middle East expansion), so I decided to try tackling that again--and ended up with three new decks to test sometime in the near future.[****]

I've also typed up card lists for our older decks that have stood up well to continued play. That way I'll have a record of what was in them in case we ever retire them to cannibalize the cards for new decks.

And if the kids stay interested in the game, I'll have less incentive to donate my spare cards to Gen Con's Cardhalla. I had some mixed feelings about seeing a big pile of Mythos cards there the one year I made it to the con (2011), but that didn't stop me from building a Yellow Sign to leave behind for the unwary....

Cardhalla: Yellow Sign by Thastygliax


[*] Chaosium long ago removed the Mythos CCG pages from its website, but they can still be found here, in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. (Thanks to David "Big Mac" Shepheard for the link!)

[**] The original release is known as the Limited Edition, and is set in "Lovecraft Country"--essentially the 1920s-1930s New England in which most of HPL's fiction was set. This set had Starter Decks as well as additional boosters that introduced new regions: Europe in Expeditions of Miskatonic University, the South Pacific in Cthulhu Rising, and the Middle East in Legends of the Necronomicon. This last booster also included the idea of Allies from the Past (like Abdul Alhazred and Keziah Mason), who could be played through the use of certain Artifact and/or Spell cards.

There is also a Standard Game set, which included two pre-made decks that could be played against each other. All of the included cards are unique to this set, though some merely reproduce Limited Edition cards with new art. (My wife and I own multiple copies of this set in order to use the cards in our own decks, but we always keep one set intact for when we're teaching people the game for the first time.) 

There were two compatible but standalone sets released over the next year or two. The Dreamlands provided adventures set in that dimension, and introduced rules for traveling between it and the "Waking World" (the world and time of the Limited Edition and Standard Game). It included enough new Waking World content to allow you to play adventures than span both realms without needing the previous games (though having both certainly gives you more deck-building options).

The last release was New Aeon, set in the modern day (1990s). Like the previous set, it included means for dimensional travel, with enough Waking World-related cards to support those adventures, but it made no direct references to the Dreamlands. It simply referenced "other dimensions" in some card text.

[***] My daughter, the elder spawn, asks to play Mythos more than any other game right now. We even took some decks with us on our family trip to see the solar eclipse this past weekend. Naturally, I chose the decks that included Eclipse cards.

[****] None of which exclusively use Europe locations, but visit at least one other region or dimension. Two of the three have been played (and slightly tweaked) since my original post to The Piazza. We still need to test the three-region deck, which requires visiting Lovecraft Country, Europe, and the Middle East in order to complete one adventure.

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 23

23rd) Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

This is a difficult question for me to answer, partly because "jaw-dropping" is not a word that often occurs to me when considering RPG books, and partly because I own a number of quite lovely RPG products.

I've already mentioned the full-color interior art of Blue Rose, Second Edition (see Day 12). The book's art director and graphic designer, Hal Mangold, has been making Green Ronin books look amazing for quite some time now, and he keeps finding ways to outdo himself time and time again. Other titles that Hal has designed in the past 2-3 years include Freeport: The City of Adventure, the Freeport Bestiary, and The Book of the Righteous--and those are just the gems that I personally own.

Apart from Hal's work, the first book that occurs to me is Big Eyes Small Mouth, Second Edition. The rulebook was in full color, with a bright, bold layout and lots of lots of colorful anime-style art throughout. (Sadly, I lost my copy in a flood. My Second Edition Revised book survived; it reproduced most of the art, but often at a smaller size and only in black and white.) The BESM Third Edition rulebook was full color and quite pretty as well, but it just wasn't as lush in presentation as the Second Edition.

And finally, I composed most of this post ahead of time, before I bought the Starfinder Core Rulebook last week, but that book deserves at least an honorable mention here.

Friday, August 18, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Days 18-22 (Eclipse Edition)

My family and I will be traveling the next few days to see the total eclipse and do general sightseeing in Nashville, so I've decided to post my answers to the next few days' questions now.

18th) Which RPG have you played the most in your life?
19th) Which RPG features the best writing?
20th) What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?
21st) Which RPG does the most with the least words?
22nd) Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

18th) Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

This is an easy one: Dungeons & Dragons. I've been playing and DMing one edition or another of that game ever since I was first introduced to RPGs in middle school around 35 years ago. I played Basic and Expert in middle school, Advanced in high school, and 2nd Edition in college. I promptly adopted v.3.0 and v3.5 when they were released, but didn't care for 4th Edition much, so continued running and playing v.3.5 until my group decided to switch to Pathfinder a few years ago. Fifth Edition has won me back, and I'm running it for my kids so we can all learn the new rules.

19th) Which RPG features the best writing?

I'm not sure how to judge the "best" writing, but I would have to say that the Buffy and Angel RPGs are the two rulebooks that have been the most entertaining to read. Most RPG rulebooks tend to get pretty dry reading after a while, but very little of the Buffy core rulebook is. The prose is very conversational, and peppered with witticisms in the style of the TV series--but that casual, snarky style never gets in the way of explaining the rules clearly.

20th) What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

Given my shopping habits, I'd have to say RPG hobby shops and used book stores.

Many game stores will have a used game section, where items are greatly discounted. When I lived in Boston, my FLGS (Pandemonium Books and Games) had a rather extensive used game section, with most items marked at half the cover price. Some games languish on the used shelves because they just aren't good enough to sell even at a discount, but you can occasionally find a real gem among the dross. Pandemonium also had a "Black Hole" clearance shelf for items (both used and new) that hadn't moved in far too long; as time passed, those items moved to gradually more discounted shelves, ending at 90% off if still not sold.

Used bookstores will sometimes have role-playing games sections. Both Half Price Books stores in my area (Lexington, KY) have a full bay of RPG books, from a wide variety of games, both recent and venerable. Though none of the following were out of print, I scored a huge pile of Pathfinder hardcovers at HBP last year, and discovered the OneDice system there, which I bought for my kids.

21st) Which RPG does the most with the least words?

Fate Accelerated Edition. This 48-page book distills all the essential elements of the Fate system into a compact, streamlined game that can be used for almost any adventure genre.

This system is used in many of Evil Hat Production's recent games, like the new edition of Dresden Files. My one opportunity to play it so far was a short campaign using Do: Fate of the Flying Temple.

Best of all, the rulebook is available as a pay-what-you-like PDF from the Evil Hat website, or for only $5 in print.

22nd) Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

BESM Third Edition and D&D Fifth Edition. I'm sure that I would find BESM a lot more work to run for any campaign that was not a solo game, but for that, it's served us extremely well.

I'm still learning D&D 5E, but the rules are far, far simpler than any edition since 2nd, and it still captures the classic feel of the game. Running published adventures for my kids (Lost Mine of Phandelver and The Sunless Citadel) has been pretty easy so far. And it's the first edition in a while that I would not feel completely overwhelmed using to run the massive and dangerous Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (which, as I've discussed here before, is a goal of mine).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

TBT: #Drawlloween 2016

I participated in #Drawlloween 2016 here on my blog. However, I sprained my hand near the end of October, so couldn't continue for a couple weeks, and posted Days 24-28 in November.

I also drew sketches for Days 29-30, but never posted them online. Now that I have copied all my #Drawlloween work to DeviantArt (here), I have corrected that oversight.

Much of the reason that I forgot to post Days 29-20 at the time was that I never completed Day 31 ("Trick 'R' Treat"). I had intended to draw a picture of my old Buffy RPG character, Patricia "Trick" Tillinghast, in a Halloween costume. (See here and here for more about Trick.) To do her justice would have required much more time and effort than my very quick drawings from the rest of that month, and my injured hand wasn't up to it yet. To fill that void, I have uploaded an older drawing of Trick as Animal (below), which I drew back when that RPG campaign was still active.


#RPGaDay 2017: Day 17

17th) Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

Spaceship Zero, from Green Ronin. It was published in 2002, and I acquired a copy in early 2003. It's based on the album of the same name by The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, and was designed (and partly illustrated) by members of the band. It's a quirky mix of '50s radio-serial SF tropes and Lovecraftian horror (the main villains, the Hydronauts, are clearly "Deep Ones in spaaaaaace"). I've compiled some unofficial errata for the game, but never played it.

GURPS Fourth Edition (Steve Jackson Games, 2004) is a close second. I played a lot of GURPS Third Edition back in the '90s, but my regular group had drifted off to other games (primarily D&D v.3.0/v.3.5) by the time 4E came out, so we never made the move to that rules set. Which is a shame, because I won a copy of the Basic Set through the 4E iconics lookalikes contest when SJ Games was first promoting the new edition. (I built the warbot C31R07 in LEGO. My strategy of appealing to Evil Stevie's other hobbies worked!) I also sold a single 4E article to Pyramid ("The Mirror Dance: Playing Twins in GURPS," June 24, 2005).

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #12: Alarming Some Orcs

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (magician) 3.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 2/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jubair, human rogue 3.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor 3 [deity not yet known to most of the PCs].
  • Lucretia Scavola, half-elf monk (zen archer) 3.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 3; and Zafira, camel mount.
Last time, our heroes captured Tarifa, a halfling witch who had been spying on Spine Hollow for the Ghost Fist Clan. They delivered their prisoner to the settlement's druid leaders. The interrogation provided more information on the Ghost Fists and their leaders, and confirmed that this orc tribe worships the death god Asmolon.

After the party had a good long rest, they were called to speak with Razima again. She thanked the party for their deeds of the previous night, and informed them that Tarifa had provided more details on where Ilgash's secret hideout was located. Razima had recognized enough of the landmarks to give directions to Tailless, who would lead the party there to deal with the orcs. Spine Hollow's resources are very limited, but she asked if there was anything they could provide to help. Jumari requested healing potions, and the druids were able to supply two, as well as food and water.

Tailless said that it would take a little over a day to reach the cave, which was found in a branching ravine is some rocky badlands. Near the center of this ravine was the spring and a cave used by the orcs.

They traveled at night (with ample light from the moon, which was still full). Once Tailless informed them that they were only a couple hours' travel from the ravine, they decided to send scouts ahead while it was still dark, but to delay their attack on the hideout until daylight. Jumari and ZhaZha were aware that many of the desert's orc tribes have adapted to the daylight, so they could not count on bright light impairing their foes. However, the orcs would have a distinct advantage over most of the party at night, so they decided it would still be best to attack in daylight.

Jubair and Lucretia scouted ahead and found the ravine, while ZhaZha patroled on camel-back closer to the rest of the party. The rogue and monk entered the ravine, and reached the fork without problems, Here, they saw a spring trickling from the side of the ravine to form a small pool. They also saw a cave beyond it, and a single orc standing guard upon a rocky spire that gave a view of all three approaches. The sentry did not appear to be very attentive, however, and did not spot them.

Map of the ravine and hideout entrance. (Based on "BG-Desert-04," by gogot at Deviant Art.

They returned to the others, and Lucretia (who had some training in tactics) reported what they found, and started the discussion of how to best approach the orcs. The party agreed that they needed to lure the orcs out of their cave in order to kill them. They decided that a distraction was needed, so chose to split the party: ZhaZha would scout around to find the southern entrance to the ravine, and she and Tailless (riding her axebeak, Cluck) would enter from that direction. ZhaZha suggested they use the axebeak's cry as a signal that they were in position and ready to attack. In addition, Fatou send her owl familiar with the riders; she would know they were close (within a mile) when her empathic link reestablished itself.

The assault begins!
The group on foot entered the ravine, and reached the branch without being spotted by the sentry. They heard the jingling of (ZhaZha's) armor from the south. So did the sentry, who moved back out of sight. Seeing this, Jumari cast shield of faith upon herself in preparation for a fight. The sounds of this might have also alerted the guard.

Lucretia began climbing the shelves at the base of the spire in order to reach the sentry's previous position. She had some trouble getting purchase, until Jubair climbed up and gave her a boost.

Tailless had Cluck squawk a call, and rushed forward to the intersection. The cave was located in a nearby cul-de-sac, so Edel cast grease on the ground at the narrowest part of this passage.  Jumari cast expeditious retreat upon herself and rushed to the opposite side of the spire, where a rough ramp allowed the sentry to reach the bottom. The orc cast bane on the party, but only Edel was affected. Fatou then moved forward and cast sleep upon the sentry.

The trapped orcs on the defensive.
Jumari was able to dimly see at least one orc standing just inside the cave. She heaped insults upon the orcs, to which they answered by shooting at her. Another orc rushed out and moved to engage the inquisitor. ZhaZha and Tailless reached the scene and dismounted, because there was no room for their animals. The cavalier promptly moved in to flank the orc warrior--a barbarian, who was starting to rage. Meanwhile, Jubair sneak attacked the sleeping sentry to make sure he wouldn't wake up.

The orcs' leader attempted to cast sleep on Jumari and failed. Lucretia, who had moved to the top of the spire, shot this orc and took her down with a nasty critical hit. Jumari could faintly heard a shocked exclamation in Orcish about "Ilgash" going down, but then a masked, robed figure began tending to the fallen leader.

Two more orcs joined the fray outside--a lightly armored thug with a greatclub, and a warrior with scalemail and a scimitar. The orc barbarian struck ZhaZha hard with his falchion, but her return blow dropped him.

Jubair jumped down from the spire's ramp, and used some small ledges on the ravine wall near the cave to bypass the central melee in the cul-de-sac. The masked figure retreated into the cave, out of sight, so Jubair rushed into the cave to deal with it.

Edel cast a second grease spell, which toppled both of the orcs still standing outside. The greatclub wielder tried to stand but was cut down by attacks of opportunity. Jumair passed over the greased area, but stayed upright, and beheaded the barbarian.

Ilgash (with mohawk) returns to the fight.
At this point, Ilgash stood up once again, partially healed and angry. She tried to cast cause fear on Jumari, but failed. Lucretia shot her and Tailless stabbed her, finally dropping her for good. The masked person spotted Jubair next to him the cave, and cast a surprisingly feeble burning hands. Jubair took him down quickly after that.

This left no conscious foes on the field. The party checked the bodies to see if any survived. Two did--Ilgash herself, and the barbarian--so the heroes stabilized them to interrogate. The party then took some time to catch their breaths and search the bodies and the cave.

Edel detected no magic on the orcs beyond a single potion, but some of them had a masterwork weapon or armor.

The cave was big enough to fit a dozen or so filthy bedrolls, a few barrels (one holding water, one holding some unappetizing dried food, one holding spare javelins) and a large flat rock that looks like it was used to prepare food and such. They found a disguise kit near one of the bedrolls, and a small pouch of gold in another. Finally, a very long pole with a tattered banner (a crudely painted white fist) was propped against a wall near the entrance.
Last orc down.

The orcs: (front, L-R): sentry, Ilgash, barbarian;
(rear, L-R): warrior, thug, masked spellcaster.

Appendix: Previous Sessions

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Days 15-16

My kids start school tomorrow, so to give myself one less thing to worry about then, I've decided to post tomorrow's question along with today's. And as you'll see, they're closely related questions.

My regular weekly blog will still be posted Wednesday or Thursday. This week's installment will feature a new "Time of the Tarrasque" session.

15th) Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

Call of Cthulhu. Apart from trying one of the brief solo adventures back in college (when my roommate owned a copy), I have never played Call of Cthulhu using Chaosium's original BRP rules. I have, however, acquired a sizable CoC library, and have adapted it for use in other game systems: I ran a couple short GURPS campaigns using the rules in GURPS CthulhuPunk; I've co-written a short, silly LARP titled "Miskatonic Regional Elementary School"; and I've run three campaigns in Green Ronin's Freeport setting, which is steeped in Lovecraftian horror. I'm also partly responsible for the volume of Cthulhu Mythos elements that appeared in the long-time Buffy campaign I played in; my first character pitch was a essentially a Deep One hybrid, and the GM gleefully ran with it.

16th) Which RPG do you enjoy using as-is?

That's a tough question, as I tend to make up my own material for almost every system that I play for any significant length of time. But at the moment, I'd have to say Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Most of my homebrewing efforts are currently dedicated to my Pathfinder campaign, so for now, I just use what's in the 5E core rulebooks and the canned adventures that I'm running. That's plenty good enough for my kids as they learn the system and I get more comfortable with running it.

(Of course, anyone who follows my blog knows that I'm interested in trying a Freeport 5E game someday, and that will involve a lot of conversion from previous editions. But for now, my answer stands.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 14

14th) Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

Pathfinder and BESM Third Edition.

My current gaming group's game of choice is Pathfinder. I've used that system for my most recent Freeport campaign, and for my current "Time of the Tarrasque" game (which technically has a planned end point around 20th level or so, but it's going to take us a few years of game play to get there, and I have very little planned out between now and then).

I use BESM 3E for the solo Greek myth campaign that I run for my wife. That game is extremely open-ended, though after 10 years of play, I'm actively trying to work out a suitable climactic stopping place for us in the near(ish) future.

D&D 5E will probably end up taking BESM's place as one of my go-to games once I master the system a bit more. I'm currently running published 5E modules for my kids, since Tarrasque takes up so much of my "create new stuff" headspace.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 13

13th) Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

One of the game experiences that has most changed how I play didn't seem to be that profound at the time; it was just a matter of convenience. In my very first "Studded Plate" column (at BigBlueDie), I discussed the events that led to me adopting the use of LEGO minifigures instead of conventional miniatures. These days, I use LEGO minifigures and models as much as possible in my games, and I launched this blog in large part to share the tips and techniques that I've learned in the 15+ years since I made that change.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 12

12th) Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

I can't really decide between Blue Rose, Earthdawn, and Pathfinder.

Blue Rose, especially the Second Edition (for AGE), is packed full of beautiful art depicting the romantic fantasy genre. The AGE version also includes Stephanie Law's covers from the original True20 line, repurposed as two-page spreads at the beginning of the players' world, and GM's sections.

Earthdawn has a great deal of black and white interior art depicting the races, cultures, and creatures of Barsaive. The quality varies greatly, but taken as a whole, they convey the look and feel of the setting quite well. The first edition even had a few color plates of the races, famous sites, and other scenes.

And Pathfinder books almost always do a good job of depicting a wide diversity of people, creatures, and locations typical of a d20 fantasy setting. I'm especially fond of the Wayne Reynolds portraits and module covers that been repurposed as interior art in the Core Rulebook and elsewhere.

Friday, August 11, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 11

11th) Which 'dead game' would you like to see reborn?

Big Eyes Small Mouth. When Guardians of Order folded due to financial troubles, the Third Edition of the game had not yet been printed. White Wolf finally published the book under their Arthaus imprint, but no support for the new edition was ever produced.

For the past decade, I've been using BESM 3E for "The Kynthiad," a solo Greek myth campaign that I run for my wife Erika. I would like to try it out in the context of another campaign (either as player or GM), but haven't had the opportunity yet. I considered BESM for my "Winds of Freeport" campaign before settling on D&D v.3.5. (You can see my preliminary conversion notes for that here.) If I ever return to my "Adventures of Arcadayn" setting, BESM is one of the systems that I would consider using instead of GURPS (and the wiki already has some partial conversion notes for BESM 3E).

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Sunless Citadel #4: Goblin Boss Battle

Our heroes for The Sunless Citadel include:
  • Raven Flare, female tiefling rogue 2 (urchin)
  • Kalitni, female human ranger 2 (hermit)
  • Xuri, female blue dragonborn sorcerer 2 (wild magic; sage)
  • Sir Dain (NPC), male hill dwarf paladin 2 (knight)
  • Erky Timbers (NPC), gnome acolyte rescued by the party

(Warning: Spoilers for The Sunless Citadel follow.) 

Last time, the heroes used the key they received from the kobolds to pass through the dragon door, and discovered the long-closed tomb of a cursed priest of the dragon cult who originally built the citadel. They cleared that section of the dungeon, and still had enough resources to explore elsewhere without a long rest.

Now that the party included Erky, who could turn undead, they had the means to pass through a magical, trapped door they had found along the way to the goblins' territory. To do so, they needed to pass through the kobolds' chambers again. When they reached Meepo's room, they found the dragon keeper busy refurbishing Calcryx's room with the help of other members of his tribe. The kobolds were repairing the broken cage, and Meepo had somehow acquired some piecemeal protective gear (gauntlets, boots, a thick apron, etc.). The dragon was nowhere in sight, but one of the doors out of this room was barricaded. Meepo greeted the adventurers warmly, and inquired about their business. The PCs explained that they were returning to the tunnels to the north, which pleased the kobolds because it meant more trouble for the hated goblins.

The party traveled to the locked door and Erky was able to open it with his channeling power. Inside were five upright sarcophagi and an obsidian altar. Upon the altar were a lit candle, a crystal whistle, and a crystal flask. Recalling the trap on the door that Dain had found the hard way, the heroes entered the room slowly and carefully, while Erky stayed by the door to make sure it didn't close behind them.

When Dain neared the altar, he could see that the whistle was etched with the name "Night Caller" in Dwarvish runes. Xuri recalled tales of the duergar making such items, which were used to animate the dead. Dain sensed the unholiness of the thing, and smashed it with his warhammer. When he did this, five skeletons emerged from the sarcophagi and attacked. Thanks to Xuri's breath weapon, Raven Flare's sneak attack, and Dain's divine smite, the undead were quickly dispatched, though most of the heroes took wounds. 

The candle proved to be enchanted with continual light, which Erky was glad to carry, being an acolyte of the sun god Pelor. The flask contained a potion of fire resistance. Raven found a secret door in the altar that contained a coffer with a half-dozen peridots carved into dragons; these were promptly divided among the party, with the dragonborn claiming the extra against her share of other treasure. [I foresee these being the party's most cherished treasure from this adventure, despite being worth only 10 gp each.]

The party then explored a corridor to the north that they had passed by before. This hallway had six doors that were all ajar, leading to small cells. The group's lights attracted the attention of three giant rats, which the adventurers slew with little effort. The rats' nests held a scattering of coins and a few tiny gems. 

At the end of the hall was a larger room with a dry fountain featuring a sculpted dragon waterspout. There were also two pit traps here, spiked open, in front of the two exits from the room. Xuri made the mistake of reading aloud the Draconic inscription on the edge of the fountains's basin, which triggered a poison gas trap; she bore the brunt of the spray, and was quite ill for several minutes. 

The big mama rat (on 2x3 plate) falls into the hole.
The party waited until she had recovered before Kalitni climbed along the wall over a pit to open the door leading out of the room. In the room beyond, she spotted four giants rats, who were ready to pounce. One of them was enormous--the size of a human. The ranger and rogue shot the big rat, who climbed out and bit Kalitni. [The ranger easily saved against the disease the rat carried.] The other rats spread out around the pit's edges. Kalitni stabbed the big rat, who fell dead into the 20-foot-deep pit. The other rats were soon killed and thrown into the pit after it.

The rats' room was a thoroughly filthy, disgusting mess. The party found four chewed corpses: a kobold, two goblins, and a human. A gold ring with the name "Karakas" identified the human as one of the missing adventurers the heroes sought. They removed the kobold and human bodies from the room, and retreated to the sarcophagus room for a long rest. First, however, they returned the kobold's body to its tribe, and decided to leave Karakas's in the magically locked room until they were able to carry him back to town. 

After resting, the party once more entered the goblins' territory. The goblins had not yet replaced the alarm bell or first stone barricade, or manned that room. However, the second watch post had replacement guards, and the short folk had stacked stones and barrels to improvise a new barrier. Raven Flare used her stealth and speed to lead a rush on the wall. Two goblins fell before they could react, and the third fled. Raven chased it while Dain took another path to cut it off, but Xuri's cantrip brought it down before it reached him.

The party regrouped in the long columned hallway that led further into the goblins' lair. The rogue heard the noises of a large group beyond the door at the end of this hall, and Dain scouted a side passage that seemed to lead to another entrance to that noisy space. That passage also led to a door in a section of curved wall, which the party guessed was part of a tower. This seemed promising of something important.

First, the adventurers checked the other door out of the hall. This led to another goblin guard room, but the party caught them by surprise and finished them off quickly. Beyond that room were more corridors, where the party detected a covered pit trap. Dain's stonecunning told him that this hall was very near the kobolds' chambers, so they guessed that this pit served as a defense from both directions. The heroes felt no desire to meet with the kobolds again right now, so returned to the tower door. [There was a suggestion that after the party deals with the goblins, they let Calcryx loose to finish off the kobolds, since it hastes them as much as it does the heroes.]

Kalitni listened at the door, and could hear voices speaking Goblin. The voices were pitched lower than goblins, which told her that there must be hobgoblins in that room. (Goblins are her favored enemy, so she knows quite a bit about goblinoids.) Erky blessed the paladin, ranger, and rogue, then Dain kicked in the door. 

The large, domed room held a deep shaft in its center, surrounded by a low wall that was covered with pale, sickly-looking vines growing up from below, where a dim violet light emanated. To one side of the room was a hobgoblin dressed in splint armor, seated on a makeshift stone throne, feet propped on an iron chest. Standing near him were three more hobgoblins, and a female goblin dressed in a robe stained with noxious colors. A dead sapling stood in a pot near the throne as well. The leader and goblin were surprised by the party's sudden entry, but the hobgoblins reacted quickly. 

Dain charged the goblinoids, and Raven soon followed, engaging the two closest hobgoblins. Kalitni, Xuri, and Erky moved to take shots at the leader from across the shaft; Kalitni badly wounded her target but the spellcasters missed. The third hobgoblin went the other way around the shaft to menace Xuri, while the goblin--a shaman--cast bane on the paladin and ranger. 

Dain suffered a serious wound from the hobgoblins' skilled teamwork, but then downed one of them. He pressed on closer to the leader, but then the sapling revealed itself to be a disguised creature and (feebly) scratched at him. Raven tried to shove the other hobgoblin into the shaft, but her first couple of attempts failed.

Kalitni's arrows and hunter's mark downed the leader before he could land a hit on anyone. At this point, the goblin shaman closed with Xuri and knocked her out with an inflict wounds spell. Erky was at the sorcerer's side in an instant, and healed her. Xuri, enraged now, blasted the goblin and the nearest hobgoblin with thunderwave, pushing them both away from her--and the goblin was flung straight down the shaft! Kalitni shot the battered hobgoblin dead. 

Raven Flare finally succeeded in shoving her foe, who tumbled over the wall and down the shaft. Dain smashed the plant monster (a twig blight) and its pot. With the battle over, the heroes turned to the business of tending their wounds and searching the room.

Two views of the final boss fight: hobgoblins (Uruk-Hai minifigures), hobgoblin chief (Uruk with samurai gear), goblin shaman, and twig blight.

The leader wore splint armor and a gold ring, both decorated with the Hucrele family crest; these items belonged to one of the missing adventurers the party sought. Erky had already informed his rescuers that the Hucrele siblings and Sir Braford had been sent to Belak, who dwelt below. Raven Flare easily defeated the trap and lock on the chest, and found a stash of gold and gems. 

While the others were busy, Xuri remained near the second door in this room, which almost certainly led to the same space with the sounds of activity to the south. Despite the deafening boom her last spell had produced, no goblins entered this room to investigate. Eventually, she heard hushed whispers beyond the door, and alerted the others. The party lined up at the southern door, and Dain opened it.

This very large room had once been a cathedral, but was now the messy home of around three dozen goblins. Most of them huddled near an exit on the far side of the room, but four warriors stood next to the door the dwarf had just opened. Raven Flare used her thaumaturgy cantrip to cause a tremor, and flourished the bloody head of the hobgoblin chief, impaled upon his own sword, as Dain bellowed, "Flee before the mighty warriors who have defeated your leader. Behold the evidence if our destruction of your people, and flee!" This caused the majority of the goblins to stampede for the exit, crushing one another in their haste. The four warriors were shaking as they backed away, but they kept themselves between the heroes and their own people, and were the last to leave. The party let the goblins flee, then Raven dropped the head. (Some of the PCs realized that the only way for the goblins to escape was to go through the kobolds--but felt a supreme lack of concern about either side.)

[Raven's stunt was blatant stealing of a tactic I had told the kids about from when Erika and I had played Lost Mine of Phandelver. My tiefling warlock had done this with the bugbear's head in the Cragmaw Hideout, but had done the "Flee or die!" speech herself, with a cantrip-enhanced booming voice. Still, it was effective, so I gave Dain advantage on the Intimidate check, which gave him a result of 23 with a natural 20!]

Xuri cleaned up the Hucrele armor while the others searched the goblin common room. Among the refuse, they found some toolkits, a small statue of an elf god, and a Medium chain shirt. After checking an adjoining room (now empty of any goblins), they decided to take a long rest before going below to deal with the druid Belak. 


The party has now completely explored the first level of The Sunless Citadel apart from a few rooms in the kobolds' territory. After tallying the sizable XP award for this session, and dividing by 5 because Erky is with them, they ended up 63 XP short of they needed for 3rd level. It makes much more sense to have them level up now rather than trying to do it in the middle of exploring the lower level, so I went ahead and gave them that extra 63 XP they needed. Reaching 3rd level means that all the heroes have now achieved the start of their subclasses.  

We have decided that Erky will continue as a full member of the party, so I have converted him to a standard cleric going forward. He was a 1st-level spellcaster as an acolyte, so I simply calculated how many XP the other PCs have received since rescuing him and awarded him that. He ended up a couple hundred short of 3rd level, so will be a 2nd-level cleric next session.

The updated party now consists of:
  • Raven Flare, female tiefling rogue 3 (assassin; urchin)
  • Kalitni, female human ranger 3 (beast master; hermit)
  • Xuri, female blue dragonborn sorcerer 3 (wild magic; sage)
  • Sir Dain (player-run NPC), male hill dwarf paladin 2 (oath of devotion; knight)
  • Erky Timbers (GM-run NPC), male forest gnome cleric 2 (life domain; acolyte)
We still need to work out when and how Kalitni's animal companion (she has chosen a wolf) will be introduced. I'll probably invent a brief role-playing encounter for it before they descend the shaft to the next level.

#RPGaDay 2017: Days 9-10

(My answer for Day 10 is very short, so I've added it to this post instead of doing it separately tomorrow.)

9th) What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

Most RPGs are well suited to a story arc that takes about 10 sessions. For a Buffy or Angel game, 10 episodes is just about right for a first season, or a stand-alone "mini-series." A longish published d20 adventure can often take about 10 sessions, and can allow the party to level a couple of times, depending on the scenario.

BESM (any edition) and Fate Accelerated Edition are good choices for more rule-light games in this time-frame. My first experience running BESM was a fantasy mini-campaign using Second Edition. I could have easily stretched that game to 10 sessions, but we reached a perfectly satisfactory resolution after five somewhat-longer-than-usual sessions.

The FAE game that I mentioned yesterday made it to 8 sessions before scheduling issues sidelined it; just a couple more sessions could have given it the proper closure it needed.

10th) Where do you go for RPG reviews?

My answers to this are pretty much the same as to Day 3's question (How do you find out about new RPGs?).

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 8

8th) What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2 hrs or less?

Two hours or less is far too short a time for most of the RPG systems I've played. Most of them have complex enough rules that encounters take some time to resolve, especially if combat is involved. The most successful games that I've played in such a short period have been very simple one-shot LARPs, which had extremely minimalist rules and fairly straightforward plots. One of my personal favorites is "Miskatonic Regional Elementary School," which I helped write at an Intercon Build Your Own Game workshop many years ago--and which is my first priority to rewrite if and when I ever get back into LARP.

Fate Accelerated Edition is one of the few systems I know that has light enough rules to fit a satisfactory length session into only a couple hours. When I played in a Do: Fate of the Flying Temple game last year, most of those sessions were about 2-3 hours long.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017: Day 7

7th) What was your most impactful RPG session?

I'm not entirely sure what the folks at RPG Brigade mean by "impactful" here, so I'm going to interpret that very loosely as "What RPG session had the most dramatic effect on you or your character?"

The first answer that comes to mind actually involves two of the innumerable online role-playing threads that my Buffy/Angel group did between regular tabletop sessions. (This is the same campaign that I mentioned on Day 1.)

The original campaign spawned a spinoff series, in which I played Patricia "Trick" Tillinghast, the younger cousin of my hero from the main series. Trick was a normal human who found out that her new best friend was a Slayer. She promptly put her skills as a fencer to help Candace train and hunt demons. Years of dedication to her sport made Trick roughly Candace's equal with a sword, but she lacked a Slayer's strength and stamina. This frustrated her to no end, so when she was given an opportunity to become a Maenad, a champion of the god Dionysus, she jumped at the chance without hesitation. At first, she was thrilled with her new abilities, and even agreed to a further initiation for additional tantric powers. However, Trick was always a bit of a wild child, and becoming a Maenad exacerbated those flaws of character--and worse, she used her new status as an excuse for her own bad behavior. As a result, her relationships with her friends and family suffered--and when she realized just how much of a narcissistic bastard Dionysus really was, that relationship quickly went south, too.

Dionysus wasn't the only god who had interests in Shadowgard, and wasn't even the first one Trick met. The Raven Totem, who went by the name Jonathan Poe in his guise as a local nightclub owner, had been introduced early on as a trickster ally to the local heroes. He and Trick appreciated each other's quirky senses of humor, so had hit it off well from the start. In fact, Poe would have likely chosen her as his champion in Shadowgard if he hadn't already empowered one of the other series' heroes before meeting her. And by the time that Totem Warrior died in battle, creating a vacancy, Trick had entered Dionysus's service. Still, they remained good friends--and that relationship was one of the few that Trick didn't wreck as her life got more and more miserable.

Now we get to the episodes that had the most impact on Trick's career.

As a trickster god, Poe had some limited power to change reality temporarily--for the space of a single day--which he occasionally used as a prank that taught the recipient a lesson. (Body swaps and sex changes were some of his favorites.) He took pity on Trick's predicament, and tried to change reality so that he had actually claimed her as champion before Dionysus could. This stunt backfired dramatically--Trick ended up as a bisexual male champion of Puck (another trickster she had encountered in the past, and was on decent terms with). Trick immediately tracked down Poe at his club to demand an explanation, then after he gave it, she really let him have a piece of her mind. However, Poe couldn't undo the change without Puck's assent, so Trick had to negotiate with the fairy to release her. She had discovered during her tantrum at Poe that his regard for her had left him very sensitive to her moods, to the point of this whole fiasco (and her reaction to it) leaving him with a galloping migraine. Trick managed to quite politely and cleverly persuade Puck that he didn't really want to have her mad at him, too, and the spell was undone: She was a Maenad again.

Trick's success at extricating herself from that mess gave her the confidence to confront Dionysus and tell him that she was through being his champion. The god replied, with infuriating smugness, that she had no choice in the matter--she's drunk his wine, so she was a Maenad. Trick snapped, drew the sword that Dionysus had given her when she became his champion a year before, and lunged for him--she preferred to die, if need be, rather than serve him any longer.  Dionysus simply vanished and reappeared a short distance away, but her sheer audacity in attacking him had impressed him--it reminded him of the old fighting spirit that had drawn him to her in the first place. He relented, giving her a choice in order to be rid of her Maenad's blood--either drink his wine again to burn it away, or bleed it away with a knife. For Trick, the wine embodied her of all her bad choices over the past year. Besides, she was a warrior at heart, so she chose the blade. She had intended to make a shallow cut, but the wound bled far more profusely than she expected, and she soon passed out. When she came to, the god was gone; she was alone in the woods, and dangerously weak from blood loss. She was also deliriously happy to no longer answer to a god. When some of the local demons stumbled across her in this state, she actually started laughing uncontrollably. (Fortunately, another local spirit ally chased them off and got her safely out of the woods.)

Trick would soon find out that she wasn't completely free of all the effects of her time as a Maenad. Being connected to the mystical world always leaves a mark, and she started having psychic visions. Because she was merely human now, they took a physical toll on her. (Compare Cordelia after she received Doyle's parting gift on Angel.) But how Trick dealt with that new problem is another story...

Trick Tillinghast, by Tim Emrick (2006)